We've all heard the saying, "hurt people hurt people". We nod in agreement. We think of others. We call them abusers. We shake our heads and feel the hurt others have caused. We think of the messes others have made. We think of the fights others have started.
We psycho-examine them and write them off as "off", or in pain, or depressed, and leave them in that place in our thoughts. Isn't it true though, that when we think of the word "abuser", we rarely think of ourselves?
We rarely think of ourselves as the ones who sometimes don't fight fair. The ones who hide, shut down, yell, and withhold affection when in conflict with loved ones. Sometimes, we're the ones who lash out, blame, jab, hurt, and hate. Yet even when we can't find grace in the eyes of others, love and healing are not outside of our range.
It's frightening to look back at our actions and have to own them. We have to own the ways that we failed to properly process our pain. It's necessary if we are to live healthier lives and stop painfully traumatic cycles. It's easy to run; to move to another city, find a new group of friends, or to become recluse and to reject the freedom of bravely owning our faults. But it is not easy to live with these choices.
When I was in college, I got married to a man I thought I was in love with. I was 19 and he was 21. From the first day we dated, we thought we were in love. Our love, however, was built in codependency (an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner). Neither of us really knew ourselves well enough to understand the weight of toxic relational baggage we carried. Growing up, we both learned harmful battle tactics from our parents. These strategies were so normal to us that we didn't know it was violent to yell at each other at the top of our lungs. We didn't realize the effects of shutting completely down and shutting each other out. We didn't realize that it was okay to take deep breaths, to step back and assess our goals and communication strategies. To us, fighting meant that only one person could be right. So, we fought to win, no matter how it affected the other person.
There were so many critical things that we needed to unlearn before we entered into our very young marriage. Because we didn't have the tools we needed, both of us quickly became abusers of each other's hearts. Year later, I look back now and see that many of the choices I made in our relationship we were deeply hurtful. I grieve the pain that I cause my husband. I grieve how inadequate I made him (wanted him) to feel when we failed to see other and meet each other with grace, understanding, and kindness.
There were many other complicated parts of our relationship that lead to our divorce. For the sake of honoring our memory, I won't share them in this article. I do believe, however, that no matter how violent and volatile our relationship became, today there is no lack of grace and forgiveness for the both of us.
And because I believe and receive that for myself, I believe it for you, too. There is no lack of grace and forgiveness for you, too, no matter what you've done. The question now is how to move forward? How do we move forward from our actions with clean consciences and a genuine ability love well?
1. Reject Victimhood. Own the Mistakes.
One of my friends often says that "violence is the absence of language". Yet, just like language, violence may be expressed in many ways. There is physical/sexual violence. There is emotional and psychological violence. Each of these iterations make themselves present in our narratives when we choose quick, self-gratifying actions over love.
The keyword is "choose". Violence of any kind rarely happens without a choice. The choices that we make are based on the things that we know understand about solutions. That means that if our understanding is that violence will solve an issue, then we will undoubtedly choose violence to resolve issues. No matter the degree of violence, this behavior must be unlearned.
Like my ex-husband and I, our behaviors were learned from our parents. Though this was not our fault, we still needed to take responsibility for our actions and submit to the process of unlearning the behaviors that caused us harm. Even subtle behaviors like yelling, slamming doors, and stonewalling must be unlearned in order for us to make room for language and healthy communication to thrive.
Let's leave victimhood in the past. Yes, we learned hurtful behaviors. Yes it’s painful. Now, we get to unlearn. Now we get to lay down our past wounds and choose healing. Let's own this process by choosing freedom.
2. Receive Forgiveness. Forgive yourself. Forgive them. Forgive again.
For me, the hardest part of this process was forgiveness because it was never a one-time occurrence. Forgiveness, especially for hard and painful wounds, often happens in layers--even for ourselves. It was difficult for me to look at myself in the mirror and choose grace. It was hard for me to trust that my
Forgiveness is the process of letting go of blame
3. End the cycle: do the work.
There may be people who will tell you that you will never change, but you're only one who can decide that and make it a lie.